Old RPG Review #32: Grandia

NuMetalManiak Another game developed by Game Arts, the same guys behind the two Lunar remakes for the Playstation, Grandia is an RPG set in the world of emerging technology, so don't expect tons of amazing fantasies should you play it. It's a pretty well-conceived game if anything. Originally released on the Sega Saturn, it gets an English port on the Playstation, which is the port I played on. Well I don't know what else to put in this introduction, but here's to CastlevaniaFanboy128 for telling me this exists. It was certainly something I had generally enjoyed playing through, without any trouble as a matter of fact.

Gameplay: Overall, this game was pretty easy for me. But you know what? It would be a lot harder if I hadn't done a ton of grinding. I wasted a lot of time doing that for my characters, although it's not the level grinding you'd expect. In this game, character levels are pretty much useless apart from small stat boosts. It's the weapon and magic levels that make the grinding quite a chore, particularly on the menu you can see the level requirements for each special skill the characters have. My total time for this game was around 92 hours or so, the longest I've ever spent on an RPG so far. But then again, if I sped through it, it probably wouldn't be as long as Xenogears was. Also add to that the fact that Grandia is very linear. Most locations you go to are closed off afterwards, which means no backtracking at times. Navigation on the overworld is basically picking an open location, which doesn't really do much, while in towns and dungeons you can roam around in Xenogears-style navigation, where the L and R buttons rotate things around. The spinning arrow in the compass helps in dungeon navigation telling you exactly where to go to complete it. Pressing Select in a town allows for the birds-eye view of things; you can't do this in dungeons though, instead there are spots called Dungeon Scopes. Like in the Lunar remakes, talking to NPCs sometimes triggers party characters in conversation as well.

I said I did tons of grinding on enemies, and hey, I enjoyed the battle system. You come into contact with enemies on the field, and the battle system initiates, sometimes with an initative if you do things right or wrong. It's like a mix of Lunar and Xenogears, in that it's tactical and active time. You can see where your characters and enemies are in action via the bar in the southeast corner of the screen. Upon a character's turn, there's a load of options to choose from. Combo allows a two-hitter with regular weapons (with three possible with certain equipment or if you're using Guido). Critical for a powerful strike with the ability to cancel attacks. Moves/magic is where all the good stuff is, between special skills requiring SP and magic requiring MP. Tactics I didn't bother with because I prefer manual commands, and as always, items and running. Cancelling attacks is a good strategy, if an enemy is preparing and you hit them hardly then, they won't do it. It goes both ways for them though. With the right strategies though, enemies won't be able to hit any of my characters, and that even went for certain boss fights as well. Heck, with the grinding I did, this ended up being potentially the easiest RPG I played! Okay that's sarcasm, but it is still easy.

To grind up weapons and magic, just use them over and over. Easiest said with weapons, magic of course needs MP to use. Also, it turns out a special sort of item is needed to even get magic for characters. It's a Mana Egg, found in various dungeons, then you go to a shop in a town, find the cane, and then pick the selected element. There's four, and the magic addition is fixed so there's no givesies-backsies if you change minds at the last moment. Also there's three magic levels, with distant MP between each and every one. Some enemies use the same magic the characters do though. Here are the elements, and the combination elements too!

Fire: Gives a strength increase, and is all offensive magic. Easy to train for some of the better spells. Liete gets a unique one called Magic Art.
Wind: Mostly offensive, giving a speed increase. Howl has awesome range for a level 1 spell, and Howlnado is a funny one causing both characters and enemies to be flung into the air (characters are unharmed though). A few stat-afflicting spells round this out.
Water: Purely healing magic, except for Snooze. This is the easiest element to train because you can do so on the field. Find something to damage you on the field, get hit repeatedly, then expend water magic till you run out. Then go to a save point and recover (these are very convenient things).
Earth: Defensive usually, although there's two offensive spells. Not an easy element to train though.
Blizzard: Water + Wind, the low requirements for Crackle and Crackling make them great. Crackling is pretty powerful too. The rest of the spells are either stat debuffs or ailment inflicters.
Forest: Water + Earth, no offensive spells, but for curing ailments or providing stat buffs.
Lightning: Fire + Wind, dangerously powerful spells that can kill opposition flat. Liete has a unique one called Enclose which is a game breaker for the bosses.
Explosion: Fire + Earth, also very offensive powerhouse spells. WOW! is the exception, which is a stat buff and the only fire-related non-offensive spell.

So yeah this game's easy when grinding and the battle system is pretty good. Grade: A+

Justin: "Here goes! Ha!" Not a whole lot of depth to this guy. He's an adventurer at heart and has the same hero tropes: good at everything and always a party member. He can equip swords, maces, and axes. Best skill is Heaven&Earth Cut, very damaging to everything, high SP requirement though.
Sue: "Earthquakes are scary!" The punkish girl that bosses Justin around and her fuzzcompatriot Puffy are around for pretty much the whole first disc. As you'd think, she's weaker than Justin in most regards, although giving her water magic early makes her a good healer. Sue can learn all magic too. She uses maces and throwables, which includes bow and arrows. Best skill is probably Puffy Fire. She sounds hilarious when using an earth magic, which is why I put that quote.
Feena: "Strike through!" Another adventurer, and the first to start out with magic. Feena's a good character at anything just like Justin, but lacking a bit in defense. She's more of a mage than a physical fighter, where she uses daggers and whips (the only character that can use whips). Some interesting skills, but after a certain plot point she has access to some very unique spells. One of them requires level 99 Wind and Water. Ain't no way I'm grinding that far. Oh well, her best is End of the World, causing a complete 999 damage regardless of resistances. And Tree of Life is another game-breaking skill, resetting pretty much everything.
Gadwin: "Come, power of the universe!" Available only in the first disc, the Knight of Dight is a powerhouse character ends up being the only Hopeless Boss Fight for Justin, only to be a playable character for the last few moments of Disc 1. As a powerhouse, he has access only to swords, fire, and earth magic, and nothing else. Also at level 30 he'll make the game quite a breeze. This is evident with his signature move, Dragon Cut, which uses all his skills and hits everything for colossal damage.
Rapp: "Come on back for more!" The first character of the second disc, Rapp will stick with the party entirely thereafter. He's quite an average guy compared to Justin, but I ironically made him my strongest character. In this game you get special items to raise experience for characters once certain characters leave your party, and I ended up giving most of it to Rapp, considering he was behind Justin and Feena at the time. A very fast character on the field by the way. He uses swords, daggers, and throwables (not including bows), and his best skill is Neo Demon Ball, almost as good as Heaven&Earth Cut. Did I mention he's a nosepicker?
Milda: "I'm gonna knock y'all down at once!" Milda's a tank, plain and simple. Unlike Gadwin, she doesn't learn magic, and only has a few skills at her disposal. Plus she's slow. Good thing she's powerful. Has the exact same weapon pool Justin has, and her best skill is the single targeting Milda Hit, for killer damage.
Guido: "Mmm, we won! We won!" I don't like Guido. He doesn't have magic like Milda, but he lacks strength too. A few unique skills, like stealing from enemies and a good stat buffer, but he's weak otherwise. Same weapon pool Rapp has, except he can use bows. Best skill is Mogay Bomb, although it doesn't do a load of damage, it's good for stunning a group of enemies.
Liete: "Suffer the punishment of heaven." A full-on mage, Liete comes with all the spell power but little in terms of physicals. She only wields a mace (read: a magical staff), and only two skills. Still, she's a brilliant spell caster, and has a few unique spells.

Aside from playables, much of the NPC cast has some amazing characters, usually on the villain's side. Baal's the big honcho behind the Garlyle Forces, which you fight repeatedly, then Mullen is his son, and Lieutenant Leen is his aide-de-camp. Three goofy sergeants also are there: Nana, Saki, and Mio. They remind me of Lunar's Vile Tribe girls, except they are actually funny. A very well thought out cast of characters, just like Game Arts is good at. Grade: A-

Plot: Okay, this game is pretty bad on the first disc plotwise. It actually starts out on the villain's side, where they try to control dig sites with totally cool air cruisers and such. Adventure boy Justin dreams of finding ancient civilization and such, along with Sue. Oh, and he's the son of a pirate mom. Not like that becomes relevant once he starts out. In Steampunk City they live in, and take a look at the ruins. The stone Justin has helps him figure out his journey, and he is slightly guided by Liete on where to go. This brings him into conflict with the Garlyle guys, who are gonna appear repeatedly, I'm afraid.

A sailor's life follows, and they meet Feena, who sort of helps them with their escapades (and they help her too, because some dork wanted to forcibly marry Feena and he has snot up his nose or something). After another exposition, some non-human is discovered, and after some escaping from Garlyle again, they rummage through forests to that non-human's village. Around this time, we learn Leen is Feena's sister. Then it's the End of the World, which is actually just a giant wall (who seriously had the time to block off everything with such a giant wall? Good lord).

On the other side, Justin and Feena search for Sue, only for Gadwin to win a duel against Justin. At least he's friendly enough, and Sue's alive, and the four characters continue together. They do good deeds for two villages, and there's a "Fire King" moment at some point. At some point though, Sue falls ill and can't continue, so Justin finds a way to return her home. Then he wins a duel against Gadwin and then he and Feena cross by boat, eventually to Disc 2! I was quite bored with Disc 1 unfortunately.

Alright, here's where the game gets good plotwise. Not initially, as it's another forest, and we only meet Rapp in some sort of feud. But he reveals his old village had been petrified by some guys in the Tower of Doom. Along the way, Milda is rampaging through, and after a brief fight she teams up. Oh yeah, and the Tower is run by, surprise, Garlyle forces. This is our first glimpse at the evil in this game, Gaia, which is responsible for stoning Rapp's old village. Around this time, Leen reveals her secret powers, and the rest of the characters make a journey to Milda's village, Laine. Along the way were a few side-dungeons, pretty tough. I saved the Tower of Temptation for later. Turns out the older Laine village is just much worse in its detriment than Rapp's village (Cafu by the way). Also Milda's husband is a cow, oh wait, cow's are female, I meant Milda's husband is a bull. And the three wise men of Laine are all bulls.

Milda eventually leaves the party and we get Guido, who we've been seeing for quite a while. He helps the party into the Zil Ruins in the hopes of reaching Liete. Those ghastly Garlyle guys are over there too though, and in the heated conflicts that follow, Feena is revealed to have the same powers Leen has and is taken by Baal. Justin vows to save her, ending up giving away the Spirit Stone to him, only for him to go drunk with power. Good lord I didn't expect that sort of craziness. Baal's ship collapses, though every plotline-related character as always has to survive.

Justin and crew finally reach Alent, Liete's city, although Guido leaves at this point. Turn's out Liete's a loner in Space City Alent. Justin convinces her to help out though, so why not. Oh, and it looks like Mullen and the rest of the Garlyle's realize that his father Baal is freakin' nuts, so anyone who's not Baal in the Garlyle's is our ally now. Um, yay? Baal does escape though, and totally undergoes evil Eldritch transformation with Gaia, so powerful that most anything can't stop it. That one merchant town of Zil Padon bit the big one at that point. Yet Leen makes the heroic sacrifice anyways, despite opposing pleas, especially from Mullen. Afterwards, Justin, with some encouragement, wants to solve the problem differently than some stupid myth he was shown. To defeat Gaia, Justin vows to get rid of it outright, with help from Liete, Rapp, and eventually Feena. That last boss honestly was too easy. After everything is finished, loads of life come to the planet, and everyone's happy. There's a really good scene after the credits.

Grade for Disc 1: D+, and grade for Disc 2: B+, I've seen better but this one is pretty good.

Music: I enjoyed battle themes, especially Disc 2's battle theme. I don't enjoy much of one of the boss themes, sounds random. But most everything else was either ambience or just not very memorable. Not a strong suit here. I guess the best field music are the ones in the starting town of Parm (them bagpipes), and the Twin Towers dungeon. Grade: C

Overall Grade: B

Easy, easy RPG with the grinding and battle strategies, and the plot is a slow starter. Character skills, optional dungeons, and no random encounters. It's certainly worth at least one try, despite the slowness of the plot, the grinding, and the less-than-stellar music. And if you really enjoy it but didn't find much challenge, there's a ROM hack called Grandia ReDux, which, shall we just say, makes things a lot harder, while keeping the core gameplay intact.

Alright small announcement. I'm 32 reviews done, but it'll take a while till I get to my 33rd RPG. That's because I have a ton of work to do. While real world catches up to me, I'd like to announce a JRPG character battle tournament is in my works! Anyone ought to be interested in voting if they want to.